By Juli Huddleston
Flowers are a colorful center-piece; they are given to loved ones when loved ones are ill; or presented to wives by miss-behaving husbands as a sign of repentance. Yet, the role of the flower as a savory additional to jams and breads or a flavor enhancer for a main entrée is often overlooked. This lack of knowledge around their edibility has caused the flower to be underutilized.
A short history:
Flowers have a long standing reputation in history as being both beautiful and tasty. The first recorded use of flowers for consumption dates back to 140 B.C. The Romans used mustard flowers in love potions for their aphrodisiac effects; during the Renaissance only the king was allowed to eat Peony root; and in medieval times, taking a bath in thyme-water was thought to cure hangovers. At one point, it was even believed that you could cure insanity by drinking daisies soaked in wine with sage and southernwood.
Although these superstitions and ancient practices are no longer tradition in today’s society, flower use has been continued in many forms. Floral flavors and smells are everywhere; soaps, shampoos, lotions, candles, chocolate, beer. Their beauty and fragrance are unsurpassable! So, why not cook with these pleasant, calming, and often therapeutic plants?
Fun ways to use and cook with flowers:
• Fill large flowers with dip and serve as a bowl
• Add them to the tops of salads
• Freeze small flowers whole in ice cubes and add them to drinks
• Use petals to infuse oils, make vinaigrettes, jellies and jams
• Crystallize flowers (whole or petals) to eat alone or add to desserts
• Seep them overnight in wines and liquors
Edible Flower List:
Here is a list of some common flowers that most would not think to eat. Some may have effects that are less than desirable, so be sure to take note!
• Carnations: Very sweet; used in wine drinks. Carnations have been the hidden ingredient of Chartreuse, a French liquor, since the 17th century.
• Clover: Licorice-like taste. Raw form may be hard to digest.
• Dandelions: “honey-like” when picked and eaten before they bloom; often used to make wine. Eat them raw or steamed.
*NOTE* Dandelion is used in herbal medicine as a diuretic at high quantities
• Day Lilies: Mild taste of asparagus and zucchini. They come in many colors; some say the color changes the taste. These are a favorite addition both in and on desserts.
*NOTE* may have laxative or diuretic effects, do not over consume
*NOTE* regular lilies are NOT edible
• Chicory: Eat the bud and petals. This flower has a hardy, slightly bitter taste. Used as a coffee substitute and flavoring in the South. Chicory is often pickled.
• Chamomile: Looks like tiny daisies. It has a sweet, fruity flavor. Traditionally used dried for tea. Chamomile has a calming effect that may be used to treat anxiety in patients.
• Jasmine: With shiny leaves and white flowers, it is very strong in smell and versatile in its use.
• Lavender: Has tastes of citrus. Abundant use in savory dishes and makes a great, subtle addition to a glass of wine.
*See recipe section for Lavender Sweet Wine Cookie recipe
• Hibiscus: Tart berry taste. Use fresh in salads and dried for tea.
• Honey Suckle: Eat only the flowers; raw use is best.
*NOTE* Honey Suckle berries are very poisonous.
• Lilac: The taste of this flower changes from plant to plant. It has a very strong odor and is a bit tart in flavor. It is an excellent flower to crystallize.
*See recipe section for instructions on how to crystallize flowers
• Marigold: Citrus or spicy yellow and gold petals. Is a nice addition to soups and rice dishes; also good mixed into dips. Marigold is a saffron substitute.
• Pansy: Grassy taste, very mild. Intriguing addition to fruit salad.
• Rose: Taste will vary depending on the variety and environment they are grown in; ranges from fruity to minty to spicy. The darker the rose the more flavor it will have. Many uses!
*See recipe section for Rose Petal Jam recipe
• Sweet Woodruff: Has an almond and vanilla flavor to its petals. Add this flower to savory dishes as a secret ingredient!
*NOTE* Sweet Woodruff may have a blood thinning effect if eaten in high quantities; avoid use if on anti-coagulants or other blood pressure medications.
• Tulip: Is thought to taste like peas and cucumbers. Do not eat the bulbs.
*NOTE* The Tulip is often a source of allergic or sensitivity reaction
Flowers to Avoid:
Not all flowers are edible. Pesticide use and natural poison make it important to know which flowers are safe. The first way to ensure a flower is safe for consumption is to only eat flowers from a source you know and trust. Do not eat flowers that came from a florist or nurseries. These flowers are full of pesticides (and not the type you find sprayed on your grocery store tomatoes!) These pesticides can be toxic if consumed. The second way to make sure you are eating safe flowers is to only eat them if you know what they are. If you are unsure if you should eat a flower, look it up to make sure it’s edible and does not have any un-wanted side effects.
Below is a list of flowers to avoid; they are all naturally poisonous. This is a short list of some of the more common flowers and by no means includes all un-edible flowers you may come across.
• Morning Glory
Flower Collection and Storage:
1. Grow edible flowers yourself to ensure they are safe. Or, buy flowers from a grower that specifically grows them for eating.
2. Pick edible flowers when it is cool outside, but not dewy to ensure high water content in the flower veins.
3. Pick flowers just after they bloom for the best flavor.
4. Place fresh picked flowers in a salt water bath and gently wash them, then into an ice bath to help hold their shape.
5. Let flowers dry before picking off their petals.
6. Remove the stamen and pistol (see picture for location) from the flower. Usually only the petals are eaten. People are often allergic to the pollen and if it’s left on, it may change the taste of the flower.
7. It is best to use the petals within hours of picking them. They will keep for a day in the refrigerator if stored in a plastic bag with a damp towel.
8. If picking flowers for later use, keep them whole and store them in a jar of water in the refrigerator.
1. Add flowers into the diet slowly; one variety at a time. Too much at once may cause intestinal discomfort.
2. If you are prone to allergies, it may be wise to trial a new flower before full consumption.
3. Not all flowers served as garnish at restaurants are edible.
4. Only eat flowers you KNOW to be edible.
The possibilities are endless! Flower use in cooking is only limited by the imagination. For new users, start with some simple recipes, such as the ones below. Once you get used to working with these beautiful ingredients, start adding them to traditional meals. Sneak a petal or two into your everyday casserole or a summer soup. Surprise those you serve with the lavish taste and stunning presentation of the flower.
“Candied flowers make beautiful decorations for desserts and can last up to one year. This job takes a little patience. It seems to go more quickly if you do it with a friend. The following recipe will coat quite a few flowers, but if you need more, mix up a second batch.”( http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowersnot.htm)
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
• Rinsed and dried edible flower blossoms, separated from the stem, about 4 cups loosely packed
• 1 extra-large egg white, at room temperature
• Few drops of water
• 1 cup superfine sugar
• Small paint brush
• Baking rack covered with waxed paper
1. In a small bowl, combine the egg white with the water and beat lightly with a fork or small whisk until the white just shows a few bubbles. Place the sugar in a shallow dish.
2. Holding a flower or petal in one hand, dip a paint brush into the egg white with the other and gently paint the flower. Cover the flower or petal completely but not excessively. Holding the flower or petal over the sugar dish, gently sprinkle sugar evenly all over on both sides. Place the flower or petal on the waxed paper to dry. Continue with the rest of the flowers.
3. Let the flowers dry completely; they should be free of moisture. This could take 12 to 36 hours, depending on atmospheric humidity. To hasten drying, you may place the candied flowers in an oven with a pilot light overnight, or in an oven set at 150 degrees to 200 degrees F with the door ajar for a few hours.
4. Store the dried, candied flowers in airtight containers until ready to use. They will keep for as long as a year.
Notes: Suggested flowers include apple or plum blossoms, borage flowers, lilac florets, rose petals, scented geraniums, violas, violets, Johnny-jump-ups, and pansy petals.
Source: Texas A&M Horticulture
Lavender Sweet Wine Cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
• 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
• 1 cup superfine white sugar
• 1 cup plus 1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup lavender sugar, divided use
• Pinch of salt
• 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
• 2-1/2 tablespoons sweet white wine
• 12 leaves fresh lavender, chopped finely
1. Make the Lavender Sugar: Combine sugar and lavender flowers. Place in a glass jar, seal tightly, and store in a warm, dry spot for 1 to 2 weeks to infuse the sugar. Sift sugar through a fine sieve to remove flowers before using.
2. Make the Cookies: Preheat oven to 375 F. Line cookie sheets with Silpat baking liners, parchment paper, or lightly grease with butter.
3. Remove 1 tablespoon of the measured 1/3 cup lavender sugar and set aside. Whisk together remaining sugar, flour, and salt until combined.
4. Rub butter into the flour using your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in wine and lavender leaves. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. It should bond together.
5. Gather up the dough and place on a floured board. Roll into a rectangle 1/8-inch thick. Use a pizza wheel or a sharp knife to cut strips to cut strips 2 inches long by 1 inch wide. Twist each strip once in the center to resemble a bow and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until edges barely begin to turn brown.
6. Cool on wire racks and dust with remaining tablespoon of lavender sugar.
Yield: about 36 cookies
Source: About.com: Home Cooking
Rose Petal Jam
• 1/2 pound pink or red edible rose petals
• 2 cups granulated sugar, divided
• 4 1/2 cups water
• Juice of 2 freshly-squeezed lemons (approximately 1/2 cup)
1. Clip and discard bitter white bases from the rose petals; rinse petals thoroughly and drain.
2. Place rose petals in a bowl and sprinkle enough sugar to coat each petal. Let set overnight.
3. In a saucepan over low heat, place remaining sugar, water, and lemon juice; stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in rose petals and let simmer 20 minutes.
4. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil; continue boiling for approximately 5 minutes until mixture thickens and the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 221 degrees F. or until a spoonful dropped onto a cold plate jells and holds its shape. Remove from heat.
5. After boiling, transfer the jam into hot sterilized jars. Fill them to within 1/4-inch of the top. Wipe any spilled jam off the top, seat the lid, and tighten the ring around them. Cover, label, and store in a cool place.
Makes 1 pound of jam
Source: About.com: Home Cooking
S.E. Newman and A. Stoven O’Connor (2009). Colorado State University: Edible Flowers. Accessed April 13, 2010 from: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07237.html
Amy Barclay de Tolly and Peggy Trowbridge. About.com: Home Cooking: Edible Flowers. Accessed April 13, 2010 from: http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowersnot.htm
Kathy Corey and Lynne Blackman. A Feast of Flowers- An Epicurean’s Guide to Edible Flowers. Accessed April 13, 2010 from: http://www.epicurean.com/articles/edible-flowers.html
Cyndi Lauderdale. NC State UniversityHorticulture Information Leaflets: Edible Flowers. Published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Accessed April 13, 2010 from: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8513.html
Edible Flowers: How To Choose Edible Flowers – Edible Flower Chart. Accessed April 13, 2010 from http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm